English classes first on agenda for Cowichan Valley newest Syrian refugees

Learning to speak English fluently is the first priority for the latest family from Syria that has come to the Cowichan Valley

Learning to speak English fluently is the first priority for the latest family from Syria that has come to the Cowichan Valley to escape turmoil in their homeland.

Mustafa Rasheed Qaddour, his wife Nada and their three young children, as well as Nada’s widowed mother, Hayfa Rasheed, and her 22-year-old sister Maha Kayali, arrived in Duncan last Friday afternoon and were taken immediately to their new home after a long flight from Turkey.

The family was welcomed at their fully furnished home by the group of people from the valley who have worked hard over the last several months to bring them here.

Speaking through the Google translator app, Mustafa said the family found their new house, which the group is renting for them, to be “beautiful” and they are very happy to now be living in an “incredible and multicultural” country.

“The children were very impatient to finally come here,” he said with a smile.

“It’s a little colder in Canada than what we’re used to, but we just loved spending the weekend visiting Cowichan Bay and other places in the area. We’re finding that the people here are very kind.”

The family is from war-torn Aleppo, Syria, where Mustafa worked as a welder in better times.

During the last five years of fighting, Mustafa did what he could to support his family, and they moved several times within Syria, leaving their neighbourhood when the fighting was bad, returning when it calmed down.

Nada’s mother and sister moved in with them when their home was destroyed.

They finally felt that they had no choice but to leave Syria and walked through the mountains to a refugee camp in Antakya, Turkey, where they stayed for about a year until the family caught the interest of a group of concerned citizens in the Cowichan Valley.

Kathryn Holopainen is a member of approximately 15 doctors, teachers, business owners, a realtor and several retired people, mostly from the Cowichan Valley, who pooled their resources to bring the family to Canada.

Holopainen said that, like many Canadians, the members of the group felt they had to do something to help those who were so badly affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

She said it all began when she attended meetings about how to sponsor Syrians wanting to come to Canada that were hosted by the Cowichan Intercultural Society.

Holopainen said she decided to adopt a Group of Five format to sponsor a family, which is a group of five or more Canadian citizens who have agreed to sponsor a refugee to come to Canada.

The group must agree to give emotional and financial support to their sponsored refugees for one year.

“It’s costing us about $35,000 to help this family for one year,” Holopainen said. “We began sending out emails to our co-workers, families and friends around Christmas asking for financial help with our sponsorship, and that has really helped.”

Holopainen said the family was chosen after she met relatives living in Victoria at the meetings hosted by the Cowichan Intercultural Society, and they encouraged the group to sponsor them.

The group has rented a townhouse for the family and filled it with furniture, food, clothing and anything else they might need upon arriving in Duncan.

They even planted a vegetable garden in the backyard.

Holopainen said the adults will begin taking English classes in July at the CIS, and the children will start school in the fall.

She said Mustafa will determine exactly what’s needed for him to become a certified welder in Canada in about a month when his English improves.

“We’re looking forward to our new lives here,” Mustafa said.


Free training session for  private refugee sponsorship

People interested in the private sponsorship of refugees are invited to a free training session in Duncan on June 25.

Hosted by the federal Refugee Sponsorship Training Program and assisted by the Cowichan Intercultural Society, the session is intended to outline the challenges and issues of becoming official sponsors of refugees, and provide information on everything prospective sponsors need to know.

Lynn Weaver, executive director of CIS, said while the focus in recent months has been the sponsorship of Syrian refugees, the training session is intended for those interested in sponsoring refugees from across the world.

“The response from the community in the Cowichan Valley towards refugees has been good for the most part,” she said.

“We’ve brought 63 Syrian refugees here since the conflict started in the country, as well as refugees from many other countries over the years.”

Weaver said groups of dedicated people are ideal for the private sponsorship of refugees largely because it’s a “big commitment” in that the sponsors will be responsible for their refugees, both financially and emotionally, for one year.

Weaver said spaces are filling up fast for the June 25 session, which will be held at the Duncan Community Lodge from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but another session can be scheduled if there’s enough demand.

For more information, call Weaver: 250-748-3112.